Tue | Nov 24, 2020

Michael Abrahams | Jamaica’s global music influence

Published:Sunday | August 6, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Last week, the video for the song ‘Despacito’ by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee became the most watched video ever on YouTube, and the first video to exceed three billion views. It is also the video with the most likes, more than 17.5 million, on the video-sharing website.

Last month, the song broke another record by becoming the most streamed song ever, notching 4.6 billion streams across all platforms after just six months. Other records include the most views in 24 hours by a Spanish-language music video, the fastest Spanish-language video to earn 200 million views, and the fastest music video ever to reach two billion views.

The remix of the song featuring Justin Bieber is also No. 1 on America’s Billboard Hot 100 chart, and has been at that spot for 12 weeks, sitting on the chart for 26 weeks. It has also hit the top spot in over forty other countries.

The world knows that the song is a massive hit. What many do not realise, however, is that without Jamaican dancehall music, the song, in its present rhythmic form, would not exist.

‘Despacito’ is a reggaeton-pop song. As the name suggests, reggaeton is a Latin music genre heavily influenced by Jamaican music. Although the word was coined by combining the word ‘reggae’ with the suffix ‘-on’, used in Spanish to indicate that something is large or grand, the genre is more influenced by dancehall than by reggae. The sound is also influenced by reggae en Español (Spanish reggae) from Panama and hip hop from America. Incidentally, a Jamaican, Clive Campbell better known by his stage name DJ Kool Herc, is credited with originating hip hop music in the early 1970s in The Bronx, New York City. As such, he is also called the ‘Father of Hip Hop’.

Reggaeton was developed in Puerto Rico in 1991, and its most popular artistes, including Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, hail from that country. The genre became prominent during the early 2000s, characterised by the dembow beat, originating in Jamaica. Local dancehall producers Steely & Clevie have been credited with creating the ‘riddim’, which was first highlighted in the song ‘Dem Bow’ by dancehall artiste Shabba Ranks in 1991. Dembow is a vital component of reggaeton.

When ‘Despacito’ became the most streamed song, it ousted ‘Sorry’ by Justin Bieber. Interestingly, ‘Sorry’ is a dancehall-pop song, with an even more obvious dancehall influence than ‘Despacito’. ‘Sorry’ is also the fourth most watched video on YouTube, racking up nearly 2.7 billion views. The success of the video highlights another aspect of Jamaican dancehall culture: dancing.

Beiber does not appear in the video. Instead, it features New Zealand choreographer Parris Goebel and her dance troupe, and World Hip Hop Dance champions, ReQuest, performing a multitude of dancehall dance moves, including ‘Tempa Wine’, ‘River Nile’, ‘Gully Slide’, ‘Gully Creeper’, ‘Boasy Bounce’, ‘Over Yu Head’, ‘Call Dung Di Rain’, ‘Cow Foot’, ‘Muscle Wine’, ‘Bogle Waistline’, ‘Badda Wave’ and ‘Bruk It Dung’. Unfortunately, during an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, when asked where she got her movements from and what was her inspiration, Goebel claimed that they came from, among other things, “usually just the music” and “the song, the people around me, the imagery in the room”.

There was no mention of Jamaica or dancehall, prompting several dancehall fans and members of the fraternity, including dancer and dance teacher Orville Hall of Dance Xpressionz, to object vociferously. Hall tagged Goebel in an Instagram post, asking her if she was "really comfortable with taking someone else's culture and saying it's your creation?" and stating that "90% of what you do in this video is dancehall and you know this...the steps were not even modified, they were used in their original form.” Hall would know. He not only teaches dance, but also taught at a dance class that Goebel attended in France.

Goebel responded by saying, "If you know me personally or have worked with me before, you will know that I LOVE dancehall and have such a huge respect and passion for it. A lot of my routines before Sorry have been inspired by dancehall,” adding that people were “misunderstanding the whole situation”.

But this scenario is a glaring example of cultural appropriation, and dancehall artistes Sean Paul and Mr Vegas have expressed concern about foreign acts using our music and not giving us credit for it.

The fact is that, for such a small country, our culture is disproportionately powerful. Many Jamaicans have no idea what we possess, and sit idly by and watch others take what we have and profit immensely from it, while entertaining billions on the planet. All this, and we are unable to produce a decent Festival Song for Jamaica 55.

What a bam bam!

- Michael Abrahams is an obstetrician and gynaecologist, comedian and poet. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and michabe_1999@hotmail.com, or tweet @mikeyabrahams.